Very interesting post election piece in today’s Telegraph, that seems to lay some of the blame at the door of Tony Blair, for the lack of voter interest in our electoral process. Whilst that might be true, there’s no getting away from the fact that all those who have followed Blair, have used the same approach to governing this country and have therefore had the same negative effect on the public’s attitude to voting. Put simply, we now have a political system of compromises.
Our leading politicians may think they are being very clever deploying the tactic of satisfying most of the people most of the time. However, all it does is confuse the public by blurring the differences between those who stand for election to be our political leaders. Just like some shoppers often leave the supermarket without having made a purchase, because there was too much to choose from, the public will will walk away from the ballot box because they can’t fig out who to choose.
A couple of less than ideal examples would be, the Tories and their confusion over EU membership and the Labour Party’s increasingly cooling relationship with the unions.
Copyright – Daily Telegraph comment Saturday 17th November 2012
Until voters feel involved, localism is a lost cause
THE American congressman Tip O’Neill once said that all politics is local. Yet judging by the pitifully poor turnouts in the contests to elect new police and crime commissioners (PCCs) in England and Wales, when people in this country are given the chance to influence local decision-making, the majority apparently does not want to know.
Earlier this year towns and cities rejected poorly promoted plans for elected mayors and the campaign for the PCCs was equally badly executed. The idiocy of holding the elections in November was the fault of the Liberal Democrats, who wanted them uncoupled from the local polls in May. Ministers only got fully behind the reform late in the day and failed to place an important extension of local accountability in a wider political context. Many people complained that they knew little about the candidates and even less about their powers. Moreover, a significant number objected to the whole idea on the grounds that it represented the politicisation of the police. That, again, was partly the Government’s fault for failing to promote the participation of more independent candidates.
But even if political leaders had spent the past six months talking about nothing else, voters would still not have flocked to the polling booths. Thursday’s lack of interest reflected a deeper malaise at the heart of our democracy that has been apparent for some time. Turnouts at national and local elections have been plummeting for 20 years and a report earlier this year from the Hansard Society suggested that political engagement is lower than at any time since the equal franchise was introduced in 1928.
In a recent survey of British social attitudes, only 56 per cent considered voting to be a civic duty; the number who thought it was not worth voting at all has more than doubled since 1991, from 8 per cent to 18 per cent. In the last three general elections, 65 per cent or less of the electorate has voted. The nadir was in 2005, with a turnout of 59 per cent: Tony Blair’s government, which secured 36 per cent of the vote, was returned with the support of just one voter in five.
It is telling that the highest turnout at a general election in recent years – 78 per cent – was in 1992. That was a contest in which people felt they had a real choice and that the outcome would influence the direction the country might take. Out of that defeat sprang New Labour, whose leaders set out to destroy politics as a battle of ideas and turn it into a technocratic pursuit of the floating voter underpinned by a mendacious mix of spin, focus-grouping and fence-sitting.
This lack of conviction and deliberate denial of leadership fed into a popular cynicism about politicians that was compounded by the expenses scandal in the last parliament. After all, it is not as though people have lost all interest in politics. Opinions are traded more freely than ever via the internet but they often have a common theme – a belief that politicians, whether national or local, don’t listen to the electorate, but rather conduct a debate among themselves and with the media that excludes the rest of the population. Why bother voting if you feel it cannot make a difference? It is this sense of participation – not simply in the vote itself, but in what comes afterwards – that is missing. Yet, ironically, the one thing that the creation of police and crime commissioners was supposed to achieve was to reconnect an important local institution with the people it serves.
No doubt many will conclude that the turnout indicates a popular rejection of localism – the idea that people should wrench back control over their public services after years of centralisation. They are too busy, have too many other distractions or they simply cannot be bothered, so just let the professionals get on with it. Yet if voters were given the chance to make a real difference – perhaps through a greater use of local referendums – then more would take part. Yes, we want our services to be efficiently run and to work properly; but that will only happen if we have more power to influence how they are delivered. National party machines have had their day. The lesson to be drawn from Thursday’s debacle is that we need more localism, not less.